Who Are You, Again? How to Deal with the “Name Blank”

We’ve all been there. It’s that awkward moment where you find yourself locked eyes with someone at an event and you know you know him or her from somewhere, but you can’t, for the life of you, place it. You may even know them relatively well (as in you spent a recent cottage weekend together or used to work in the same office) but, for some reason, his or her name escapes you at the moment. In the worst case scenario, you have absolutely no idea who the smiling stranger is in front of you who just called your name from across the room. It’s panic-inducing, as your brain frantically searches to place the person and you think to yourself, does she think I am someone else? Did we meet during a wild night out sometime? S$%t! Here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you hit the town for an industry event or one of those must-attend functions that seems to bring everyone out of the woodwork.

Brief your dates and “plus ones.”
We have learned our lesson about arriving with an astute and good plus one or date. These days, when social and professional networks are larger than ever and young professional-targeted events seem to be a weekly occurrence, briefing your dates and partners in crime is as essential as remembering your wallet. Always remind your guest to take the immediate initiative to introduce themselves upon meeting new people, no matter how well the other people seem to know you, and agree to do the same. You could also take matters into your own hands and use your date to find out a name through a one-sided introduction, where you simply say to the person, “Let me introduce you to John Smith.” Once the introductions are over, if your friends can tell you look uncomfortable and are still searching to recognize the other (we have secret codes for this with some friends), yet the other person keeps chatting away, have your guest ask the other how they know you. Just make sure they don’t ask you this question.

If there’s no faking it…
If you really are in a jam and you honestly have no clue where you know the other person from (at times when even their name offers little clue) say something like, “I am just going to meet my friend/co-worker at the front, I don’t think I have your contact info though – do you have a card?” Of course, the hope is that the vital information conveyed on the business card will trigger your memory. If you realize you’re screwed in the beginning, it is sometimes better to take the honest approach and ask as soon as you realize you’ve forgotten their name or have no clue where they are from; the more time you spend together, the more offended they’ll be when they realize you have been playing along the whole time when you had no idea who they were. There have been a few times where (with sweaty palms and a red face, but a smile) we had no choice but to revert to the old, “Sorry, I am such a scatterbrain today. I can’t place you out of context – where do we know each other from?” Once they tell you, offer an enthusiastic “of course!” and mention something about the meeting, whether it was at a conference, bar or dinner party… 

Follow up
If you had an awkward and embarrassing run-in with someone you couldn’t place, redeem yourself with a friendly follow-up email or social media message telling him or her how great it was to catch up with them. If you don’t follow up via email or social media, be sure not to forget them for a second time the next time your paths cross. Make a mental note of one thing they told you – perhaps about an upcoming vacation, work campaign, or personal anecdote – and make references to it the next time you run into one another. Better yet, write it down in your smartphone. 

Ensure it won’t happen again
Most of the time that we don’t remember someone’s name it’s because we weren’t listening in the first place. In social situations, where there is pressure to be “on,” we are usually so consumed with our own image that we barely register what the other is saying. Remember to repeat the person’s name either throughout the conversation or when saying goodbye to them. When discussing the evening with friends the night before, instead of describing “that girl in the green dress,” say the person’s name; “that girl Julia we met in the green dress.” When you first meet someone, repeat his or her name in your mind as soon as you learn it. This will help to engrain his or her name into your memory. When you take someone’s business card, make notes on it to help you remember the other person – this can be anything from where you met, to the name of their spouse, to anything else that was discussed in conversation.

Remember that blanking happens to all of us. Sometimes when we run into certain people in certain situations that already make for an awkward run-in, we are only at a loss for his or her name because we are so caught off-guard to see them in the first place. While their name escapes you, yours may escape them as well.